Customer Support sometimes doesn’t get the recognition it deserves, but a few easy tactics can help you and your team become superheroes in the eyes of the company.

Trying to secure buy-in for your customer support efforts can feel like an uphill struggle. Some of you may even have been discouraged from trying at all.

Often the difficulty isn’t convincing others in the organization that making customers feel supported is important – as consumers we’re all well aware of how a poor customer experience can affect the perception of a company. Instead, the difficulty lies in making the rest of the company realize that a well-oiled support operation – far from being a cost-center – can be one of the most important assets a company has when it comes to retaining customers, building brand loyalty and generating valuable feedback for internal design and product teams.

If you’ve been struggling for a while to make your voice heard or if any agreed investment in new tools, people or technology continues to slip, you might need a shift in mentality and a bolder approach. There are three core areas to focus on:

  • Finding your allies
  • Showing how awesome your team is
  • Getting better at making your case

Find your allies

The first step towards aligning other parts of the company with your mission and values over in Support is perhaps the most important: Get as many people excited about customer support as possible.

Put simply, the more people throughout your company who understand the value of delivering great support to your customers, the more willing they’ll be to get behind your initiatives. Prioritize who to approach based on what you know about your company’s structure and culture. It need only be for five minutes over a coffee break. Focus on the most influential individuals who will be the easiest to get on board. Don’t forget to also talk to new hires about what you do.

Support other teams

Offer your team’s time and skills to help other teams with specific problems to solve.

Experiencing other types of work will not only help your team pick up new skills and better understand the constraints and challenges faced by the different teams, but it will help you find the allies you need to embed a customer-centric mindset throughout the company.

Celebrate the wins that come from these collaborations. Acknowledging each other’s roles in the success of a milestone or project helps cultivate trust and respect among team members from different departments.

In a previous role, I took some time to look through the huge backlog of bugs, issues and product requests that was waiting for me when I joined. I validated whether the problem still existed and then approached the Head of Product with a cleaned-up list of things that were affecting our customers. Together we worked out what we could realistically fix, and through this process we came to the understanding that these fixes would improve lives all round.

Amy Smith, Head Of Customer Service at Trouva
On the whole, the more customer-centric your organization is, the more positively the support team will be viewed. In some of my previous roles, customer support was viewed as a benefit and a selling feature. We gave our sales teams the ability to say, ‘Hey, you want our product? Great! Here are all the great features we have and here’s our pricing. Oh, by the way, our support team’s response time is less than a minute, and we have a 97% satisfaction rating’. This is often a popular selling point and a huge positive indicator to prospective clients.

Teri Bayrock, Head of Customer Success at Trussle

Try to avoid getting leaned on too much though. In some companies customer support agents tend to be the most junior members of staff and, as a consequence, this can lead to an assumption that they can be freely approached to fill in elsewhere.

One of the challenges we’ve faced is the perception that customer service agents, or ‘champions’ as we call them, are the people who sit around doing the least work. They are also the most junior people in the office, so we get quite a lot of, ‘Oh, can this person just help me with this?’ or, ‘Can this person just help me with that?’ or, ‘Does this person have time to make calls to customers to find out about stuff that is really marketing or product related?

Mike Goss, Head of Customer Operations at Spoke

Get others to walk in your shoes

If they don’t already, invite other members of the company to do a stint in support. This allows them to see what kind of questions your customers have for you, and what struggles they’re having with your product or service. This can help:

  • Product and Engineering to get closer to actual customer problems.
  • Marketing to understand gaps in customers’ understanding of the product or service.
  • Leadership to avoid getting too disconnected from their customers.
In a previous job, we went through a phase where interested people from other teams came over to see how customer service is done. It was announced at our weekly team meetings, and the reaction was one of, ‘This is a cool idea. Everyone’s gonna start shadowing customer service and get a feel for what customers are saying.‘

There were a couple of hour time slots where people could spend time chatting with one of the customer service guys or with me when I was free. We showed them what the inboxes looked like and the kind of queries we got, so they could see what the team was up against, what kind of questions our customers had for us, and what struggles our customers had with the products. Initially there were a few reservations in terms of people investing their time, but once the first person had done it and come away with a lot of learnings, news travelled fast, and everyone wanted to do it.

“This approach definitely drove home the importance of understanding our customers. It also made sure we were in the loop when something was going live. We could then expect to get more contact about x, y or z. It was open communication but it was also pushing back when it was necessary.

Amy Smith, Head Of Customer Service at Trouva
At Automattic, everybody in the company, even Matt [Mullenweg, Automattic’s founder and CEO], has to do a one-week Happiness Rotation every year, where you work six hours per day in direct customer interaction. On the last day, we even throw them into chat and see if they swim!

It has two effects. The first is that whenever a developer comes through the Happiness Rotation, many bugs are fixed afterwards that have been lingering for forever, because they suddenly feel the pain very directly. The second effect is that people finish their Happiness Rotation and say, ‘I have no idea how you do this every day, every week, every month without throwing stuff at the wall’. They suddenly appreciate that we are doing a really tough job.

Valentina Thörner, Happiness Team Lead at Automattic

Show how awesome your team is

For some companies, the impact that support can have in making them successful is ignored or quickly forgotten. A quietly efficient customer support team may only have their time in the spotlight when things aren’t going well, so it’s important to make sure the good stuff gets through. This is going to help you build a sense of value around your team and make it easier to achieve the kind of investment you’re looking for.

What might be needed is a shift in mentality and a bolder approach to show your value. Give cross-team talks and hold workshops about what your team does and how your work can benefit others. Celebrate your accomplishments at company-wide get-togethers. You deserve to have your team’s successes shared and celebrated as prominently as those from Marketing, Sales and Engineering. Tell the stories about customer who’ve had a really challenging time and how you got them a resolution. You’ve probably turned somebody who hates your product into somebody who loves your product – that’s something to share.

At Huddle, we used to do a ‘Lunch & Learn’ around different processes that the support team was implementing, shout-outs about different statistics like our satisfaction rating, and calling out specific pieces of feedback that customers had given us. We were able to say ‘Here are the things that, from a customer success perspective, we did for that customer, and here’s why they’re now upgrading’. Those kind of presentations always go down really well.

At the same time, it’s important to mention when there’s been development involvement throughout the journey. Rather than just bigging up everything that the success and support teams have been doing, you talk about the joint effort to get here, calling out specific development teams for things they’d worked on to get that customer to that point.

Peter Peart, Head of Customer Support at Improbable

Another tactic is to make it almost impossible for colleagues to ignore your team’s value by putting your key metrics and goal progress front and center. Mounting a TV in a prominent area near where your team works and using a TV dashboard, you can start building awareness of metrics that are important to your team that would otherwise go unseen. This can stimulate conversations with members from other teams about the impact your team’s work is having on the business.

On our office wall we put up the so-called ‘Wall of Pain’ alongside our Geckoboard dashboard. The ‘Wall of Pain’ is based on the lifecycle of a customer. We had the top five problems for each stage of the customer journey with the number of tickets and a dollar figure beside each stage. Every time somebody from the executive team or our suppliers or future partners walked by, the wall would make them stop and have a look. They’d ask questions and we could help them better understand our perspective.

Johann Loibl, Head Of Customer Service at Zip Co

Get better at making your case

Be persuasive with numbers

Business is, by and large, a numbers game. Quantifying customer support — whether its opportunity or potential loss through inaction — can help you tell your story in the context of the wider business.

Putting things in this clear financial sense can have a big impact. He might be old hat now, but as Napoleon Bonaparte said, “War is ninety percent information”. And whilst you’re not at war, gathering facts in the form of data can hugely increase the credibility of your ask, and facilitate a sensible discussion about what is or isn’t possible.

Be specific with your numbers. Avoid words like ‘lots’ or ‘many’ as they can give the impression that you’re unprepared and don’t necessarily know your stuff.

Get the details, do some projections that tie things back to increased revenue or savings, and use numbers to outline the inaction scenario and hero opportunity. Work with leadership to understand what sort of growth is expected, when they want that to happen by and how. This will allow you to start calculating and planning what your ideal situation might be when it comes to hiring or investing in tools or other improvements. Because those requests are rooted in ‘the plan’ for the business, they become more credible.

If I’m looking for a seat at the table, I’ll roll out the business plan and say ‘Okay, you know what? A ticket costs us X amount of money, but it costs customers several times more.’

Johann Loibl, Head Of Customer Service at Zip Co
Often, business customers contact us. Many of these situations would result in refunds if it weren’t for us explaining stuff. So, from a business point of view, by now I think we’ve driven home the point that, ‘It’s not a cost thing,’ it’s a, ‘We keep the customers who pay your paycheck’. So, it kind of makes sense to treat support people with love.

Valentina Thörner, Happiness Team Lead at Automattic

Share the pain

If you’re struggling to make your case, one of the most powerful tools is to start more openly sharing painful examples of when customers have been in touch after continually struggling with elements of your product or service. Haul out those particularly cringeworthy conversations if you have to. Seeing real examples of customer pain points can really focus minds. If there are particular issues customers continually struggle with, which have become time sinks for your team, make a point of sharing every time they come up.

Coming in as a brand new manager back when I was at Red Gate, I pitched the team my role as removing obstacles for them across the business. Telling them that there was someone fighting in their corner across the rest of the company went a long way with them. When we started to get the voices of the support team heard more throughout the organization, they then bought into what it was that we were doing.

As a support team, we built out feedback mechanisms to go into the different development teams. So, if a bug was consistently being hit by our customers, the internal development teams were able to act on that. The support team then felt that their voice was being heard, rather than them just dealing with people being sad day in, day out.

Peter Peart, Head of Customer Support at Improbable

Understand why people don't agree with you

If you feel like, despite your efforts, you’re not making progress in securing investment, don’t be afraid to ask your stakeholders what’s keeping them from supporting your proposals. Sometimes you might need to accept that it’s not the company priority right now. If there are blockers, look for ways to remove them. Could you be clearer on your goals and how it might impact on the company? Perhaps there’s somebody else you need to talk to? Be on the lookout for like-minded colleagues who can help you with the first steps.

No matter what, keep building your case for investment in customer support, slowly but surely. Be patient. It’ll be worth it.

Be patient, but relentless

As customer support managers have demonstrated, there are a number of ways you can start to shift the perception of customer service within your company. It’s going to be equal parts research and reflection, trial and error. And selling this vision may take even longer.

But that’s okay. Keep banging that drum and sharing your challenges and opportunities. Find those allies. Show how awesome you are with visible, consistent efforts. Get better at making your case. Be patient, but relentless. The more you do it the easier it becomes.


The Center of Happiness

Stages of a customer support team


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Levelling up

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Above and beyond

Your team is firing on all cylinders and your customers are delighted. How do you take things to the next level?

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